A cabbie's bold claim inspires this week's column from Wow! Stuff CEO Richard North.

Northy’s Inventor Mantras: The difference between inventing and ideation

Mr X, you did not invent Furby.

I met Mr X two years ago. He was/is a black cab driver in London and like most great London cabbies he had stories to tell.

This one was how he had invented Furby about 20 years ago and was alarmed to see his item at the London Toy Fair that same year.

A blatent rip-off! And he allegedly told them so!

So he showed me his ‘Furby’ which he carried around with him as a drawing on A4 lined note paper that could quite probably have been genuine – genuinely drawn in the late Eighties that is.

The picture on it? God only knows. It could have been a squirrel.

It reminded me of those therapists meetings where they show you pictures, probably picked randomly from Vogue or some other arty publication, and then photocopied. The therapist asks you what you can see in the picture. If you see a flower then you are sexually inactive, if you see the moon then you are depressed.

That kind of thing, although before you get too worried, I made up the flower and the moon results.

So, I looked at the cabbie’s piece of note paper and I could only see a squirrel. Although if I looked hard enough and rotated it 90 degrees I think I could also see the Eiffel tower. 

Therein lies the difference between inventing and ideation.

I guess 75 per cent of the population have ‘invented’ products that go on to huge success for other people. The difference between them and the inventor is that inventors prove concepts and create a physical working prototype, sometimes even costed, but certainly working; something tangible, physical and before someone else has done the same.

Timing is so often vital. Some inventors even take it to market and prove, or disprove, there is a market for it. At Wow! Labs we try to do this more often than not. This helps the toy company evaluate it and while you may not always get paid more, it does carry a far larger degree of certainty for selection.

We love ideas people for our gift and gadget businessWow! Stuff, but we prefer inventors for our toy-tech business Wow! Labs.

The good news is that there’s room for both, just don’t always expect the same rewards from each and don’t be too surprised if the company says they’ve seen it before.

So week’s bite-size inventor mantras: 

  • Ideation is good. Inventing is good. But they are different. Be prepared to get less from one.
  • Timing is vital. If you don’t take a great idea or invention to the toy company quickly, someone else likely will.
  • Most of us have invented Furby or similar. Sorry to piss on your bonfire, but do research the market first.

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